The doorbell rings and I open up to find my latest online clothes delivery hanging neatly on the doorknob. Two metres away, a friendly woman dressed smartly in a blazer and mask introduces herself as Beth, my style concierge.
She explains I have 40 minutes to try on my clothes, during which I can FaceTime her to ask for advice at any point, before she’ll come back to collect anything I don’t want.
I’m trying out the new way to clothes shop that’s the closest we’ve come to recreating the changing-room experience from the comfort of your own home.
Happily, there are zero cardboard boxes in sight, Beth is on hand to give me a second opinion, and most importantly if something doesn’t fit I won’t have to fill in a dreaded returns form because Beth is there to take away any unwanted items in her van.
Radhika Sanghani has tried out one of the new home ‘try while they wait’ fashion service run by British firm Harper Concierge (pictured right, with Style Concierge Beth)
The service, run by British firm Harper Concierge, is just one of a new wave of fashion deliveries aiming to ensure the online shopping experience that has boomed over the past year continues once the shops reopen next week.
Think of it as a sort of ‘Deliveroo for fashion’, allowing customers to skip all the admin of a typical online clothes order, while still maintaining the feeling of shopping in real life.
Demand for Harper Concierge has gone up by 300 per cent during the pandemic and, given that many of us don’t relish the return of queuing for cramped changing rooms on the high street, it’s quite possible this hassle-free way of shopping will remain popular even after clothes shops reopen.
‘The service brings all the good bits of the in-store experience — the personal service and being able to try items on — and combines them with the convenience of shopping online,’ says Harper Concierge’s chief executive Liam Young.
‘It’s the perfect service for the time-poor but experience-driven customer of today.’
Liam isn’t worried that demand will decrease after shops open — if anything he believes there will be an increase as the concierges will be able to resume services such as coming into the customer’s home, and giving bespoke advice linked to their existing wardrobe.
Radhika was given 40 minutes to try on a selection of clothes in the comfort of her own home after they were delivered by the Style Concierge
A Style Concierge gives you clothes to try before taking away any unwanted items at the end, avoiding the dreaded returns forms (Radhika pictured with her haul of clothes in her home)
Even when we can go to changing rooms and try clothes on, there will still be a demand for this type of sophisticated home delivery which has been honed to perfection over the past year.
Not least because the latest government guidance advises shops to leave a gap of ‘a few minutes’ between customers using changing cubicles, which will no doubt translate to long queues in more popular shops.
But not everyone is convinced. ‘It’s lovely we have the option of having these services come to our homes,’ says commercial fashion strategist Cecilia Joannou, Founder of Brand+ Commercial.
‘But as consumers, most of us can’t wait to go back to shops and have an in-store experience. We’re all at home and miss that human element. There’s also a geographic element; a lot of these companies have started in cities, but once you start covering more residential areas, how does that work?
PERSONAL STYLING SERVICES: BEST OF THE REST
The pandemic has led to an increase in innovative ways of shopping online. Here are five of the best — all of which are free…
REVAMP YOUR DAY-TO-DAY LOOK
Liberty London Personal Shopping — Refresh your existing wardrobe
What it involves: A 45-minute virtual session with a womenswear fashion expert, to find new pieces that work with your wardrobe and boost your confidence.
Liberty Expert Appointments help with everything from styling denim and indoor loungewear to beauty and interiors workshops.
Best for: A helping hand to top-up your old wardrobe if you’re stuck in a style rut.
Book at: libertylondon.com; or call 020 7573 9944.
EXPERT STYLE TIPS FOR A MAJOR OCCASION
Selfridges Stylist Service — Virtual Key Look Appointment
What it involves: A one-hour virtual appointment with a stylist who can help you curate the perfect special occasion outfit.
Best for: Finding the perfect inspiration for a post-lockdown big reveal outfit.
Book at: selfridges.com or call 020 7318 3536.
WORK UP YOUR WARDROBE
Reiss Personal Shopping
What it involves: A one-hour virtual appointment with a Reiss stylist to discuss any specific shopping requirements and learn more about your personal style. They will then curate a selection of products, which you will be shown on camera during the video session, where you can ask questions, too.
The final edit of items is sent to you via courier.
Best for: Your return to the office work wardrobe.
Book at: reiss.com
SATURDAY NIGHT SHOPPING EVENT
John Lewis Virtual Group Styling Night In
What it involves: A two-hour zoom session with a stylist, which you can do with friends and family (up to 20). You can’t see the stylist, but you get access to a personalised talk and Q&A; plus a group styling session.
Afterwards you’ll receive a wish list of items discussed to browse at your leisure. The store also offers one-hour private sessions.
Best for: A virtual shopping trip with your girlfriends.
Book at: johnlewis.com; or email firstname.lastname@example.org
POST-LOCKDOWN FASHION SPRING CLEAN
ME + EM – Zoe on Zoom
What it involves: A virtual styling service over Zoom with the label’s head stylist, Zoe Zipper.
She will design a full capsule wardrobe inspired by your lifestyle. She also helps you ditch things you no longer wear — and gives advice on how to refresh existing pieces with new styling.
Best for: A spring clean to declutter and zhoosh up your wardrobe, ahead of summer.
Book at: meandem.com; or email email@example.com
‘For me, a lot of practical questions still need to be addressed beyond the current situation where we’re all working at home, and there are plenty of personal stylists available to work with the companies.’
But Harper Concierge remains unfazed and if anything it is accelerating its plans for expansion. The service currently works with a number of stores including popular British midlife brand Me+Em and British designers Chinti & Parker, Amanda Wakeley and Mary Katrantzou, as well as boutique Iris Fashion, which stocks labels including APC and Ganni.
But it won’t be long, it promises, before it works with more mainstream stores. Similarly, while the service is currently only available in the 32 boroughs of London, Manchester and Birmingham will follow soon.
‘We are planning to begin serving other UK cities over the next 12 months,’ says Liam. ‘We’re also in conversations with a number of more contemporary retailers, to satisfy demand from the modern consumer.’
Shoppers can access the service for free via the specific brands’ websites, ordering the items they want to try, before selecting a convenient delivery slot. Regular clients can also contact Harper Concierge directly to arrange a multibrand appointment.
Fees range per brand. It costs a flat £15 for me to order a selection of clothes from Me+Em, and I take advantage of my Harper slot to add a couple of silk jumpsuits from Seren London to my order.
The whole process is seamless. I don’t feel guilty ordering everything in two sizes to see which one actually fits me because that’s the whole point of the service. And I don’t have to spend hundreds on a credit card only to return half of it.
I order 14 items (there is no minimum or maximum) which would have come to almost £2,000 if I’d had to pay for them all. But the way the system works, I only need to pay the Style Concierge for what I want to keep.
I have 40 minutes to try on my selection: smart-but-comfortable tailored trousers, shirts, soft tops and an ankle-length red chiffon dress from Me+Em, and the 70s-style Seren jumpsuits, which remind me there is a world beyond Covid-19.
I feel like I’m in a movie montage as I try them all on, instantly discarding one jumpsuit for being too frumpy, but falling in love with a backless halter-neck version, and feeling ready for spring in the red Me+Em shirt dress that I can’t wait to wear with trainers and a leather jacket.
I feel silly when I realise I’m definitely the smaller size in Me+Em, so the seven duplicates in the larger size are pointless, then I remember it makes no difference to Beth or the brand: she would have brought my order anyway, and anything I don’t like goes straight back to the warehouse, unlike in a typical online order where it spends days in transit.
During my fitting, I don’t actually need to FaceTime Beth, but when she comes back to collect my clothes, I answer the door in my new favourite outfit — a cream Me+Em shirt with navy wide-legged trousers with a side-strip — to check she thinks it suits me.
She does, agreeing it’s the perfect smart-but-comfortable work-from-home look but also dressy enough for a date night with my boyfriend.
She neatly puts the clothes I don’t want back on their hangers and into their zip-up cover. And five minutes later, she’s back in her little black van on her way to her next appointment, and I’ve just managed to buy and return a selection of clothing without a single QR code in sight. Heaven!
Harper Concierge isn’t the only door-to-door fashion delivery service. Toshi offers a similar service in Zones 1-3 in London and is expanding to Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.
The company, which simply charges a 10-15 per cent commission on successful transactions — meaning there is no charge if people don’t keep an item — works with more than 40 brand partners, mainly high-end designers from Christian Louboutin to Christopher Kane.
But Paul O’Regan, Toshi’s chief commercial officer, believes that one day the service could also be expanded to High Street fashion.
‘What was considered nice to have for customers a year ago is now a must-have.
‘Shopping behaviour has changed drastically and people see the benefits of this at-home service. This way of shopping is here for the future.’
He says Toshi has seen a huge rise in demand during the pandemic from shop-starved customers, while brands are noticing a 30 per cent increase in revenue and a 30 per cent reduction in returns from customers who use the concierge service.
If my experience is anything to go by, like all shopping habits, the new ease of having a changing room at home could well prove a hard one for customers to break, even when our beloved store doors open.